Charity For Charity’s Sake

by Lori Dwyer on June 26, 2012 · 22 comments

“Teach us to care and not to care, teach us to be still.”
As misquoted in Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

How many of us fully research the charities we support?

As a blogger, I get a lot of charity pitches, and, as I’ve said before, there simply isn’t room for all of them. While I’m more than happy to admit I take the blog opportunities I’m offered and run with them when they suit me, everyone draws a line in their ethical sand sometimes. Out of the the multitude of charities that deserve your help and ask for it, you have to choose the ones that speak to you for whatever reason, the ones you believe in.

And then…

Well. Let’s start a few years back now– my fellow Aussies may remember an incident in 2005 where World Vision turned down a cheque for $500 000 marked for relief in South–East Asia, in turmoil following the Boxing Day tsunami, stating that they could not take the donation as the cheque was from Clubs Australia.

The point being, of course, how can a charity that works to enrich and essentially save the lives of people suffering in the Third World accept money that sourced from the profits of gambling and alcohol, which causes the suffering of so many people in the First?

A rock, and a hard place. The donation was accepted that same day by Care Australia, who stated they weren’t concerned where the money came from, only where it was going.

Does that make World Vision moralistic and ethical… or overly so? Is it right to take money from people suffering, or to purport that suffering; if it is to support a worthy cause, and save the lives of others?

I don’t know the answer. I have no freaking idea.

But there’s more. The conundrum continues.

Following devastation in Haiti, a minor argument erupted amongst the social medias in Australia when a renowned birth attendant requested that people not send donations containing tins of toddler or infant formula as aid. There was uproar, as I sure you can imagine– it is one of the most sensitive topics amongst mothers, new and old, in our society; and the directive not to send formula was taken as a personal affront by many.

The logic was simple– six weeks after the disaster, those babies who needed formula due to being orphaned, or because they were already being formula–fed, would have been well and truly catered for. In fact, formula supplies were in surplus. The danger became that it would be distributed randomly to families with babies and young children, and that many breastfeeding mothers would begin using formula instead.

Which is not so bad until the free formula runs out, and mum’s breastmilk has dried up… and the formula gets watered down, or replaced with flour because it looks the same… and there’s no clean water available to make up bottles with anyway, and certainly nothing to sterilize them… and babies wind up malnourished and sick.

A few years ago, an Australian woman started a charity after a holiday to Fiji. In its essence, she noticed none of the Fijian women were wearing bras under their clothes… And decided to do something about it. (Really. I’m not making this up) So she encouraged a stack of women to donate their old bras and shipped them off to Fiji on a regular basis.

Awww– girl power. Lovely gesture… except it’s essentially introduced a material commodity to a society that wasn’t aware of its existence before. It’s created need and want, envy and jealousy… while its lovely for the women who do have access to the bras, it’s not so lovely for the women who don’t, especially as they increasingly become a status symbol, and a desirable material object.

It’s an introduction of a Western influence they probably didn’t need. And not something you’d generally consider if a charity asked you to throw your old bras in a bag for those in need.

And that’s the point here… just because it’s ‘charity’, does that make it ‘good’?

I’ve never been fond of people who bleat negativity while ignoring the positive aspects of whatever it is they’re addressing… I don’t want to do that here. I am generally a firm believer that it’s better to do something than nothing at all. If you’re not part of a solution, aren’t you part of a problem….?

But at the same time, I get where World Vision was coming from when they turned down that half a million dollars… I can’t advocate something that I don’t believe is best practice. I’ve had my own sense of ethics tested, blog wise, before, and I’ve stuck firm.

There are things that scares me about taking a stand, vocal or passive, on any issue– I’m reluctant to admit to that, but it’s true. In the first instance, I don’t have the time nor the energy required to thoroughly research all the charities I support in one way or another, be that through my blog or private financial contributions. I don’t want to be seen as a hypocrite, tearing shreds off the inner workings of one appeal while supporting another that may have just as many flaws.

My other issue is that I may not know enough about whatever I’m talking about to make such a judgement call. When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to stop and reflect, said Mark Twain. I know a lot of my ’facts’ come from being immersed in a fast paced, pop culture society, that I may be misinformed, that a lot of the time I wouldn’t even know where to begin with clarifying that information.

In other words, I guess, it’s fine to put a blanket ban on Nestlé… But I haven’t personally studied that one enough myself to jump off this fence I’m sitting on. While it’s not a brand I would promote, it’s not something I’d argue my point hard on, either– I’m just not that informed about all the in’s and out’s of that multi–national corporation and the sins they are reported to have committed. Hand in hand with that, I’m aware that there may be many other brands with practices just as offensive as Nestle’s mid-80′s formula–feeding–the–third–world debacle… I don’t have time to research them all. And that makes me feel like a bit of a dick, making a devil out of one.

But we do what we can, when we can, with what we’ve got.

And this time I knew where to look for clarification. So I did my research. And I wish I hadn’t, because what I discovered was less than perfect.

A while back now, I was approached by a major charity who do some pretty incredible work with new mothers and pregnant women in a developing country that has been torn apart by civil war and unrest. Under the guidance and continued hard work of a gynecologist and obstetrician native to that country, but fortunate enough to study abroad, this charity was running numerous programs that are reducing infant and maternal mortality rates and providing more accessible and modern maternity services for the women in the area.

Awesome, hey? What on earth could be wrong with that…?

It was as I was writing up an impassioned, positive post encouraging people to support the charity in question that something started to niggle and scratch in the back of my mind. Something that wasn’t quite adding up with what I, in my admittedly very layman’s knowledge of maternal health, knew to be best practice.
One initiative of this charity was providing kits to be used by displaced women in refugee camps who were approaching the end of their gestation and were expected to give birth with no medical assistance. The kit contained the most basic, useful objects; heartbreaking in their simplicity– a bar of soap for hand washing, clean linens, a sterile razor blade and sterile length of string to cut and tie off the umbilical cord.

Typing that sentence in my first post started an echo in my head, reverbing off something I’d read or heard somewhere in reference to the work being done here– “We have had mothers bleeding to death due to cutting their cords and having nothing to tie the cord off with.”

The emphasis of the problem being nothing sterile to tie with- not that the cord had been cut too early. But why cut the cord to begin with? Obviously there had to be a good answer to this one.

To give you a bit of background…

According to the Australian Midwives Association, early cutting of the cord is recommended where the third stage of labour is to be medically managed. It’s generally a Western practice, followed immediately by an injection of drugs that hastens the delivers of the placenta. In a medically managed environment, this decreases the risk of PPH (post partum hemorrhage).

However, research is showing that delaying the clamping or cutting of the cord for at least thirty seconds, and up to two minutes, is beneficial for the health of both mother and baby, even in a managed third stage of labour. The cord naturally stops pulsating within a few minutes of birth– once the cord has stopped pulsating, the chances of a women bleeding to death umbilically are almost non–existent.

The other option is a physiological third stage of labour, without medical intervention, that shocking ‘birthzilla’ extreme- where the baby is immediately placed on the mothers chest with the cord intact to commence feeding and promote flora exchange through skin to skin contact, and the placenta is delivered naturally ten to twenty minutes later, assisted by the hormonal release of breastfeeding.

The AMA believes it’s when these two methods are mixed– for example, cutting the cord prematurely without a medical management model, and the drugs required for the early release of the placents– that problems occur and the risk of PPH is increased rather than decreased.

I know it’s not what everyone believes in, and, quite frankly, it’s makes no difference to me how anyone had their babies. It’s up there with whether you drink decaf or not in terms of how much it effects me, or how I feel about you, or what I think about you, or whatever. This has nothing to do with people– it’s about medical procedures. (Before anyone starts getting cranky, stop and pretend we’re discussing a tonsillectomy, OK…?)

But this is my blog, and I write what rings true to me.

I couldn’t publish that post with that niggle going on, with that unresearched lingering doubt.

Feeling all important–journalist–Lori–style, I made a few phone calls… and then, to be completely honest, I shed a few tears. The doctor in charge of the program could give me no clarification as to why the policy encouraged the immediate cutting of the umbilical cord following the birth, but did clarify that severing the cord should take place immediately, “because that is the way we do it”. When I queried him about the traditional midwifery practices of his country, understanding that many traditional methods may have been lost due to unrest and the refugee status of the majority of the population, the best answer I could get was “traditional practices are dirty and filthy”.

But that’s what they said about midwives in the UK just a hundred years ago.

I talked to the media rep from The Midwives Association of Australia, which is where the above medical information is sourced. She confirmed that gnawing concern– that to promote a medically managed method of cutting the umbilical cord in a physiological environment is dangerous.

That information sits in my gullet and ferments for days…. I wish I’d never looked that far into it. I repeat the story over and over to people I am close to until they are sick of hearing it… I’m just trying to sort it out in my own mind.

I explain the situation to my mate the Doctor (not a real doctor, obviously), and he looks at me, aghast, “But then you’re just ruining everything!”

And that’s how I feel. Like a prize dick, ruining the efforts of dedicated people with useless negativity. But if no one says anyone about anything, where does that leave things…?

We’re in a situation in our culture where we’ve come so far from a physiological method of birthing that it’s hurting mothers and babies. Women develop post natal depression and birth complications that may have been avoided in a different situation.

A elephant in labour shuts down it’s body immediately if the process is interfered with. A dog ready to birth finds somewhere warm and dark and undisturbed to do it. We put women in a bright, cold room where she’s never been before, and tell her to birth… and quickly.

I worry that by encouraging a practice that may be out of sync with its environment, and out of line with the body’s natural rhythms; we’re simply contributing to the destruction of another cultures natural birth practices… drawing them further away from a method where the human body is listened to, and further promoting a method that, while it may save lives in the short term through improved sanitary practices, is to the long term detriment of a whole society of women.

I worry that this will be of short term benefit but long term detriment to these women. Birth practices, once they become ingrained, take years to re–establish– is this effectively establishing a practice that will carry on for the next hundred years to the long term detriment of birth in that country?

Other than the assurance that traditional midwifery practices in this country are unsanitary, what is known about the traditional or tribal practices of these women in regards to birth? I’m assuming that  unrest and displacement has made community–learnt midwives a rarity, but there must be some knowledge that still exists..? Has the mortality rate always been so high, or is that a result of the displacement? How did the country’s traditional midwives treat the clamping and cutting of the cord?

With that hippy idealistic world view in mind, and all those questions that I have no answers to kicking my arse; I decided not to blog about it.

And then… well… I wrote this post instead.

And I feel like a dick.

I’ve taken a long, hard look at my motives for this post. I’ll be honest and say– I’m a blogger. This, if nothing else, makes a fantastic story; and, as much as I’m ashamed of it, there’s a nasty, smarmy I–am–so–smart vibe here too– I’ll acknowledge that. But I’ll also say it’s not the voice that speaks the loudest in my mind as I’m writing this.

I guess, like every post on my blog, the point is an open discussion, making people think. Call me a dick if you like, I’ll own that.

But I’m posing questions here, and I’m not trying to start a discussion so much on birth practices as on charities– how much do you know about the charities you put your support behind? Are we even right to question the people and organizations that make the world a better place, or is that blatant useless negativity? By asking questions and pointing out flaws, are we helping or hindering the cause of people less fortunate than ourselves? Do I have any right to question such beneficial programs, or does it just smack of the attitude
of an over privileged white chick?

I don’t know. This is one post where I’m asking questions, rather than making statements.

Over to you, jellybeans.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Annabellz July 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I do check out charities. I've had trouble with the fact that many of them have become so political AND that big money many times goes into people for things unrelated to the charity. I support the overhead that drives a charity but it has gone beyond the need many times for payroll. I also watched as a charity had set up to roll money into things that would "look good" rather than do a service for people in need. It's important to pay attention to where your money goes.


Annabellz July 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm

it isn't a trivial thing and I support you on pointing this out. For all the reasons you pointed out and more I would not be supporting this charity… bravo you!


Fiona July 2, 2012 at 11:16 pm

I don't support world vision.

because of the god stuff.


So, I would have given my money to care or the red cross anyway.


Cass June 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Thank you for writing this post. I (naively) had never really put much thought into some of the charities I've supported in the past. I just assumed that my donations/support were helping people or improving something. Perhaps not. Perhaps they were just making me feel better. Either way for making me think.


Jan June 28, 2012 at 8:51 am

Loved your Mark Twain quote! I agree with you wholeheartedly re correct cord procedure – less intervention. "Privileged white chick" ? – only because we have the ability to research and are educated enough to understand and reason. Giving to charities (unless we know the charity's ethics) is just a 'feel good' for we wealthy Westerners. Great post Lori.


E. June 27, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I understand your concerns. I seem to be in the minority with my negative thoughts about a particular organisation. I disagree with things that have been done in the past and I can't move past that.


Lori @ RRSAHM June 27, 2012 at 11:41 am


My issue is with the potentially long-reaching consequences of the information the charity is providing- not the contents of the kits.
The charity are the first to disclose that they reach only a small percentage of women in this country- understandable, given the limited funding and man power and massive scope of pregnant women.
My concern is that the immediate cutting of the cord as a traditional practice- just "the way it's done"- will become a birthing method that is passed on from woman to woman, mother to mother, across entire communities and eventually the entire country- the spread of word of mouth amongst a community of women is greater than the reach of the charity's efforts.
If we allow to become ingrained, as just the thing that is done, for no good reason, and at the possible risk of life to millions of women… that's not cool.
The birthing kits are awesome- and so simple, it kicked my arse just how basic they were. I wish the information they came with simply instructed women to wait, perhaps until after they breastfeed, and then use the razor blade and string to cut and tie the cord- the AMA confirms that, if you know what you're feeling for, you can feel when the blood ceases flowing through the cord.
It's the tiniest change in practice- it would make the world of difference.


Pearl Red Moon June 27, 2012 at 9:58 am

Lori, this is a fantastic post, one of your best in my opinion, it really resonates with me. Your research is impressive and commendable and I totally agree with your contention that there is far too much we accept without question at face value. There are a lot of charities out there pushing their own agendas and coming out of dubious ideologies. I am somebody who has questioned the medicalisation of womens health issues, especially the western medical obsfuscation around childbirth. This led to me having a midwife assisted homebirth and second time round gave birth in a car on a roadside. baby was born breech and it was an hour before ambulance attendants cut the umbilical cord and delivered placenta on back seat of car. Both my babies were healthy and robust. Both my labours were extremely fast with the waters not breaking until a minute before the babies were born. Because of my non-typical way of giving birth in hospital I would have had interventions that were probably not necessary, as my babies were subsequently born healthy and not distressed


Heather June 27, 2012 at 6:12 am

Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! I have a question about your blog. HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com


Cassondra June 27, 2012 at 4:53 am

I'm glad you wrote this post, and you're not at all a dick! As a pregnant woman who could go into labor at any time (in the 38th week) I found this not only interesting, but in the event something crazy happens and I don't make it to the hospital in time, this could save my life!


Maggie June 27, 2012 at 2:22 am

You have the right to support or not support a charity for any reason, and not be judged for it. A charity may sound great, but have unclear goals, or shoddy execution, or an unintended negative effect, which you illustrated very well. Frankly it's very important to research a charity before you hand over your hard-earned money. Even a good charity might not be a good fit for you personally. I don't get where the judgement of this commenter is coming from frankly.


Jbizek June 27, 2012 at 1:11 am

I'm sorry I meant they Aren't handing out formula and c section kits.


Jbizek June 27, 2012 at 1:08 am

The point I was trying to make is this charity has a goal of saving lives, when you decide not to support them over something that is frankly trivial I think your missing the point.
Why not put yourselves in the shoes of these moms? This charity is handing out formula or c section kits. We're talking soap and string….and your issue with it is what exactly?


Lori @ RRSAHM June 27, 2012 at 12:40 am

"I always vote for a live baby and mum."

So do I… As I said, this method increases, not decreases the risk of PPH, leading to more deaths, not less, in this particular sector the work they're doing.

If they were bleeding to death… Yep. I think they'd care when their cord was cut, not matter what they were given to tie it with.

I'm not sure I'm the one missin the point here.


Jbizek June 27, 2012 at 12:31 am

Yes, yes it does smack of over privileged white chick. I'm sorry but that is the truth. So, the goal of the charity is to save mothers and babies lives, right? How can that ever be a wrong or bad thing? Why not put yourself in the shoes of the women they are trying to help? They are poverty stricken, little to no access for prenatal care. Do you think they give a flying fuck about when to clamp the cord? No, I suspect not. They are to busy trying to survive. We do not have the same kind of issues they do and it's unfair to push our privileged white chick "birthing ethics" on them. I think your completely missing the point of what the charity is trying to do. But than, what's a few dead moms and babies? What's more important the end result (a live baby) or the process (labor). I always vote live baby and mom.


Catherine June 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

This comment has been removed by the author.


Madeline June 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I don't think you need to feel like a dick. You listened to your gut, you did your research, you asked the questions and quite frankly their response was not good enough.


Mrs Woog June 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I support The Shepherd Centre. We went through their program. They do great things on the smell of an oily rag x


The Flying Drunken Monkey June 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Oh, I did do a post for this charity and to be honest I didn't even think to look too much in to it! Now you're making me think that I should start doing some more research in to the charities I support, but to be honest I have no idea where to start.


iSophie June 26, 2012 at 11:10 am

I had never even questioned why they cut the cord straight away. Like the immediate contact on the mother's breast, it sounds like a much more natural and nuturing thing to do, to leave the cord. And I never knew about PPH being caused by that! I think I am very naive to things. I admire that you did question this, and thanks for the great read.


Chris Johnston June 26, 2012 at 11:57 am

I totally get the direction of this blog post.

It wasn't until I lost 2 friends in their 30's with young children to Inflammatory Breast Cancer that I started actually researching where breast cancer dollars go. I was shocked to learn that no matter what stage you are diagnosed at with "normal" breast cancer the metastasis rate is almost 35%. 90% of women with IBC (inflam bc) will die with 5 years and the other 10% won't be much further behind.

So it naturally you question why on earth only 5% of donations go to the research of metastasised breast cancer when it behaves so differently to non mets AND why on earth are we not being made more aware of the beast that is IBC?

I too feel so passionately about this that I am now in my second year of a biomedical science degree and damn it I will do something to change this in my lifetime. I also put the pressure on all those "pink" campaigns and ask them "what percentage goes towards the treatment of IBC and mets.

I firmly believe that by educating the population and getting them to show the research companies that we are aware – we will see a change.

Good for you Lori!!


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